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Republicans to introduce ineffectual contraception bill

Republicans plan to offer a misleading contraception bill that does nothing to help women in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby ruling.
Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) returns to his office after the Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) returns to his office after the Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 8, 2014.

Last week, Democrats unveiled a bill that would overturn the Supreme Court's recent ruling holding that corporations could refuse to provide insurance that covers contraception to their employees for religious reasons. In response, Republicans have proposed a bill that, as msnbc's Steve Benen notes, doesn't really do anything at all.

The bill, backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer, would "affirm" that "employers cannot prohibit a woman from accessing contraception or any other FDA-approved drug or medical device."

"Instead of restricting Americans' religious freedoms, we should preserve a woman's ability to make contraceptive decisions for herself," McConnell said in a statement announcing the bill. 

That's McConnell's way of saying that the bill he and his colleagues plan to introduce wouldn't alter even slightly the result of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, whose determination that corporations have a right to religious exercise could lead to companies refusing to comply with an unknown number of regulations. Employers already cannot prevent their employees from purchasing contraception on their own dime, as conservatives have repeatedly noted before and after the ruling -- but that was never the issue in the first place. The question was whether or not companies could refuse to cover certain contraception methods included in employer-provided insurance plans that are part of a worker's compensation.

The contraceptive methods objected to by Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned craft store chain, can run from hundreds to up to a thousand dollars a year. It's no help to women to remind them that they can spend that kind of money out of pocket if they so choose.  

The Huffington Post's Laura Basset reports that Ayotte said the bill was designed to state that "women have the same rights today to access contraception as they did before Obamacare was passed, and before the Hobby Lobby decision."

Even without quibbling over whether one has the same right to access something that could be prohibitively expensive without insurance coverage, what's plain is that before the decision, companies were required to offer insurance plans that covered contraception, making it affordable for female employees.

That's no longer true, a problem the Republican bill would do nothing to address.